India's life expectancy gap

By Razib Khan | July 12, 2010 1:31 am

Poking around some data sets, I randomly stumbled onto to this factoid:


According to World Bank estimates India’s life expectancy is now below that of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal’s! Now, I am aware that these data and analyses are somewhat an art, and that there’s a lot of subterfuge (hello Greece!). Additionally, it does seem strange that Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal exhibit the same trend. But of more interest to me is that India has not outstripped the other nations in terms of life expectancy considering its greater economic growth of late.

Of course that’s naive. “India” brackets together a diverse array of peoples and regions. It turns out that across just the individual states of India there is about the same variation in life expectancy as there is among the most disparate American subpopulations. In the United States Asian females live ~13 years longer than low-income southerner rural black females. Asian males live ~15 years longer than high-risk urban black males. In India women in Kerala live ~17 years longer than women in Madhya Pradesh. Men in Kerala live ~13 years longer than men in Assam. The biggest life expectancy gap between American states is 8 years, between Hawaii and Mississippi. And observe that the variance is greater for women in India, while it is greater for men in the United States. There are probably biological and behavioral reasons why women should live longer than men, all things equal. The fact that they do not in India speaks to the depth of sex-based inequity in that nation in many regions. Below is a plot of the ratio of life expectancies for males to females vs. the life expectancy of females. The relationship is rather clear:


An R-squared of 0.49 means that about half the variation of one can be explained by the other. Some of the state-by-state values are also curious. It is well known that Kerala has a stagnant economy but robust human development indices. But less well known perhaps that Gujarat is a wealthy state, and yet its life expectancy values are below the national average. Punjab and Haryana are both relatively wealthy, and ethnically Punjabi (Haryana is Hindu, Punjab has a slight Sikh majority), but Punjab has a notably higher life expectancy. Nevertheless, on a state-by-state basis there is still a relationship between per capita GDP and female life expectancy:


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis
  • Pingback: Tweets that mention India’s life expectancy gap | Gene Expression | Discover Magazine --

  • Rocky Dhingra

    This is because females are treated like a liability in India as soon as they are born.
    One case for confirm this is in my family is that of my own mother. Her own family (her mother and brother from G-6, Green park, New Delhi-110016) treated her like she is some piece of meat to be eaten by her husband, my own father who treated her also like that and she tried of trauma and abuse from her own husband and her family let my father do it.
    This is how they treat women in India.

  • Razib Khan

    rocky, well, kerala is probably not sweden, but it is one area where the sex ratio seems normal. just saying that generalizing about ‘india’ is kind of what i’m warning against….

  • Jason Malloy

    I’d bet this mostly could be explained by state level % of scheduled tribes.

  • Razib Khan

    the only 2001 india census site is a mess, but your hunch seems possible. the states with really low life expecs like orissa and madhya have a lot of tribes. OTOH, punjab has the highest % of scheduled castes, so the distinction is important.

  • Razib Khan

    also, there’s a distinction between possible and plausible. UP and bihar don’t have too many tribes. so i’m not sure that the r-squared would be strong (also, i didn’t weight for state population, so UP matters a lot more than orissa for india’s national life expect).

  • miko

    I think the Kerala thing is purely local politics… hard left in terms of education, social programs, health care. That’s of course while they’re screwed at the moment and the largest part of their economy is probably remittance from expat taxi drivers in Dubai.

  • Razib Khan

    they also go and work in bangalore and hyderabad. the gulf remittances are disproportionately from the muslim minority (which is 20-25%).


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


See More


RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar